Twenty-one students from the School of Human Environmental Sciences Departments of Family Sciences and Retailing and Tourism Management traveled to Ikaria, Greece in May 2015 to experience lifestyle as a tourism attraction first-hand. The 12-day study abroad trip followed a semester of studying how healthy lifestyles and longevity can contribute to tourism. Ikaria, a tiny Greek island located in the Aegean Sea, is known for being “the island where people forget to die.” It is one of five international Blue Zones, an area of the world where people live measurably longer lives. Ikaria is only 98 square miles with a population of 8,400. Ikarians are said to reach age 100 at rates up to 10 times greater than in the United States and they live with reduced rates of chronic disease and dementia.

While abroad, students experienced the Blue Zone dimensions that include the power of family and social networks, having a sense of purpose, maintaining healthy eating behaviors and participating in physical activity. Students were exposed to a variety of activities and opportunities that highlighted each dimension, including walking, hiking and tours of heritage centers, museums, churches and monasteries. The itinerary included community service activities to help older Ikarians in day-to-day activities. Kenya Frazier, a recent family sciences graduate remarked, “Today I picked weeds out of an onion garden, watched Laura run from bees and Allison water potatoes. All things I would have never experienced. My heart is filled with so much joy because of the help I gave and the time spent with such a genuine spirit.”

Students were mostly disconnected from their cell phones and technology, which allowed them to talk, bond, relax and appreciate nature and the environment surrounding them. Students embraced the laid back Ikarian lifestyle, openness and generosity. Dr. Amy Hosier, associate extension professor, Department of Family Sciences, and a co-instructor of the study experience shared, “This program exposed students to a culture and lifestyle very different from their own. It allowed them to gain a greater appreciation for the importance of taking time to embrace people, relationships and the beauty of the world around you.”

Throughout the 12-day program, which included 3 nights in Athens, students used journals and photo-journals to document their experiences. In addition to gaining a better understanding of the culture, students learned lessons from some of the world’s longest-lived people regarding how to improve lifestyle to live longer, healthier and happier lives. Ana Cervera, a hospitality management student, commented, “Ikarians will go completely out of their way and will literally put down whatever they are doing because they want to welcome you and show you their island. This concept, more like a way of being, is something I want to take home.”

Through the semester of study prior to travel and the trip abroad, students gained knowledge and experiences that will remain with them for a lifetime. Dr. Jason Swanson, assistant professor, Department of Retailing and Tourism Management and co-instructor of the study experience, reflected, “It was wonderful to watch the group of students learn from each other and their experiences abroad. Of all student travel experiences I have been a part of, I believe this one was the most transformative for students.”

Students at Welcome to Greece sign          Students on Bus

Students at Ruins          Students in front of columns

On Beach - go cats